Venue: Arcadia Bar
Date: Sunday, 20th May 2012
Time: 5pm – 7pm
Discussed: 1984 – George Orwell
LeedsBookClub would like to thank @CultureLEEDS who was kind enough to provide the following brilliant review of our meeting!
THE BLURB (from Penguin Website)
Winston Smith works for the Ministry of Truth in London, chief city of Airstrip One. Big Brother stares out from every poster, the Thought Police uncover every act of betrayal. When Winston finds love with Julia, he discovers that life does not have to be dull and deadening, and awakens to new possibilities. Despite the police helicopters that hover and circle overhead, Winston and Julia begin to question the Party; they are drawn towards conspiracy. Yet Big Brother will not tolerate dissent – even in the mind. For those with original thoughts they invented Room 101…
Nineteen Eighty-Four is George Orwell’s terrifying vision of a totalitarian future in which everything and everyone is slave to a tyrannical regime.
It was hard to judge an overall feeling for Nineteen Eighty Four; the book has so many themes, nuances and points for discussion that it felt as if we bounced around from point to point, never quite reaching a conclusion but always uncovering different points of view and endless food for thought. Opinions ranged from effusive enthusiasm (most people) to general indifference (the picker of the book) to a strong dislike (um… just me, I think. I won’t let that influence my write up, honest)[I’ll be the judge of that thank you! LBC].
Opening comments on the book in general touched on its mood; it was described as brutal, violent, ruthless, negative, heartbreaking, overwhelming and lacking in hope. We said it got inside our minds and admired the way it had changed language. In general we thought Orwell used language very selectively and sparingly, but to impressive effect, as Winston’s world was painted for us quickly and vividly.
When trying to articulate what it was that was so crushing about the book, we seemed to keep coming back to children. We discussed the way the characters were dissuaded from nurturing their children, and we were pretty much unanimously creeped out by the children of Winston’s neighbour. Their eagerness to go to a public hanging, their enthusiasm for guns and their obsession with thoughtcrime clashed with our ideas about the innocence of children. We knew logically that the children were too young to be blamed for the way they behaved, but the way the children dominated their parents made it difficult to blame their upbringing.
This led to a discussion about whether, were we born in Nineteen Eighty Four world, we would rather be born as proles or as Party members, and what role we might have played were we adults during the establishment of the Party regime. We acknowledged that we don’t really get an insight into proletariat life, given that we only see them through Winston’s eyes, and he alternately sneers over them, or admires their blissful ignorance.
After a minor wander down the ‘is ignorance really bliss?’ road, we generally agreed that it would be a bit self-flattering of us to pretend that we would have kicked against the regime, or led a bloody revolution. In fact, one member (*cough* LeedsBookClub! *cough*) confessed that she enjoyed structure, and responded well to authoritative guidance, thus making her (probably) the perfect Party child.[OI! Am I going to need to institute a ‘what happens in book club stays in book club!’ rule? LBC]
We also thought the closing chapter played a large part in the tone of the book. The ending – Winston’s memory of his sobering final meeting with Julia, the images of his sparse, miserable life and the final, awful moment where Winston finally gives in – leaves such a depressing taste in one’s mouth that it’s kind of hard to shake it off. It’s probably one of the most affecting endings in twentieth century literature, and it’s completely miserable.
Despite the majority of us finding the book depressing, one group member did point out that there is a glimmer of hope at the end: the afterword (very reminiscent of the one in The Blind Assassin) discusses Newspeak in a past tense, suggesting that the regime does eventually collapse.
The overriding interest in the book for most people seemed to be related to its application to our society. Once we got on to this, I’ll be honest, we took some pretty outlandish detours, but the main point that came through is the way the novel has spoken to so many generations. We loved Orwell’s insight, and admired the way that he had pinpointed universal fears about information, and control that went on to become so significant.
We briefly discussed the short scene where Winston hears proles having what seems like an intense, important conversation, but when he approaches, he realises they’re simply discussing lottery numbers. We likened this to people talking about sport and TV programmes in the same way: as if they’re terribly important, when in fact so many more important things are happening. We also discussed the way the Party would ‘change history’, and drew parallels with the Leveson enquiry and banking scandals.
As far as the characters were concerned, we all saw Winston as quite weak, pathetic and cowardly. He kept trying to rebel in small ways but then talking himself out of it. He came across as quite pitiful in the way he destested Julia at first (or claimed to) but then completely changed his opinion once he realised she was interested. We did feel for him, though as we thought his cowardice made him quite real, and a bit more relatable.
Meanwhile the group seemed split over Julia. Some saw her political disinterest and deviousness as unpleasant and unintelligent, where others saw it as believable, and thought it made her more real.
We also spent some time discussing whether, were we born in Nineteen Eighty Four world, we would rather be born as proles or as Party members, and what role we might have played were we adults during the establishment of the Party regime. We acknowledged that we don’t really get an insight into proletariat life, given that we only see them through Winston’s eyes, and he alternately sneers over them, or admires their blissful ignorance. Anyhow, we did think that it would be fascinating to read stories from the point of view of a prole, or other people at different levels of the Party.
Generally, this book seemed to be a bit of a hit! Despite two low marks, it still scored well and most people said that after they had recovered from the emotional trauma, they would read more of Orwell’s work.
Again, huge thanks to Isobel. This is a fantastic read and I look forward to totally making you do all the ones you possibly can in the future!!
Venue: Arcadia Bar
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